They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Perhaps. But when someone is making money by stealing our wine reviews, pairings, recipes and photographs of food and wine, we have to take issue with it.
We addressed this topic at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference during Wine Blogging 101. A number of would-be and new bloggers asked about copyright issues when using photos and graphics they “found on the web.” One of the presenters said that any time you include a portion of someone else’s blog, you’re violating his copyright. He touched a bit upon the doctrine of Fair Use. Fair Use is actually a defense to a charge of Copyright Infringement. And the line between “Fair Use” and Infringement is a bit of a tightrope. U.S. Copyright Law, Section 107 includes a list of the various ways you might reproduce someone else’s work which may be considered fair. This would include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. A caveat I found interesting:
Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
My suggestion to the audience: Just ask if you can use the content. Nine out of ten times, the owner of the copyrighted material will say “Yes.” In fact, I’ve not yet had anyone say “No.”
What Constitutes Copyright Infringement
We know that you can’t go into a library, check out a book, and copy it into your research paper. We know it’s plagiarism, and if the teacher catches you, it will earn you an “F.” But what happens on the internet? Doesn’t anyone have free access to whatever is posted?
Um. No. Although it seems a number of people think so.
Now, I’m not talking about the person that copies a a picture of himself or herself from my Facebook page and places it on his own or her photo stream. I’m talking about the wholesale copying of our photographs and text by some assclown who then pastes them on his blog as if it is his original content. After reading Bruce McGechan’s Wine Blog Engagement post, I started paying a bit more attention to our pingbacks and incoming links. What I found was a bit disturbing.
Wait let me rephrase that: It pisses me off.
Why? A number of sites are taking our entire post; headline, text and photos, and posting them on their “blogs.” Other, equally larcenous turds are using parts of our posts without linking back to us. Instead — get this — they are using our names “POSTED BY AMY CORRON POWER” or “POSTED BY JOE POWER” as if we’re writing for their thiefdoms. And they’re running Google Ads above and below the snippets.
Implied and Express Consent
These are terms drilled into the heads of every law student. Implied consent means that while no one gave you written permission, from the circumstances, you would assume that using the material is not an infringement of the owner’s copyright. For example, if I send you a photo that includes you, or your family, or your dog, and say, “Here’s a picture I took of you” it would be reasonable to assume I do not care if you use it, even though I haven’t specifically told you that you could use that photo however you wish.
Express Consent is pretty obvious. It means you have written permission from the copyright owner to use the photo or text; therefore, you can use it. When we want to use a photo that one of our friends has taken, we ask them. For instance, we texted our friend WineDiverGirl to ask if we could use a picture she had on her website, even though we had seen that photo stolen used a couple other places. She graciously sent a text back (while at a football game) and said “Sure, you can use it.” That was express consent.
Why would someone steal our content?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization is a way of improving your web site rankings. SEO drives people to your website. And if you get more visitors, you go up in Google and other rankings. The better your ranking the more you can charge for advertising. Or, as the folks at Wikipedia put it:
As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work and what people search for. Optimizing a website may involve editing its content and HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Promoting a site to increase the number of backlinks, or inbound links, is another SEO tactic.
In other words, the more people who link to you, and you don’t link back to, the better your page ranking.
We get at least one or two e-mails a week from some guy offering to do this for us. These folks aren’t usually the most ethical, or certainly haven’t done their homework. Some sites pay for higher rankings in search engines. We don’t.
Then there’s the unethical side of website marketing: Black hat SEO.
Black hat SEO
Black hat SEO is basically an internet SEO pyramid scheme. The bottom layer consists of blatant spam, sites used for spamdexing. These sites eventually get banned by Google and other search engines. But in the meantime, all those spam sites are pointing to another level. And this next level doesn’t usually contain advertisements. But these sites get pushed up in the rankings, because of all the links coming in from the zombie/spamdexing sites below. These sites appear legitimate, but many of them are simply lifting content. But they are cleaning up the mess from the bottom, and get higher page ranking, because of all the sites linking to them, that they are not in turn linking back to. These sites then link to OTHER sites that run ads, and also steal content. And these sites are sent visitors by search engines like Google. Often they rank even higher than the sites from which they are stealing. Because their page rank increases with all of the links incoming links.
So how are they stealing content?
The thieves steal content several ways. The basic way involves a human copying from other websites and putting the content on his own. Last year we caught some art student from New York stealing photos and text from several wine and food blogs including Another Wine Blog, Fermentation and WannabeWino. We shut him down by threatening to tell his benefactors and getting his scholarship revoked. He was easy to find if you knew where to look. But there are other, more sophisticated ways of stealing content that need very little human interaction.
One site we found appears to be stealing content from RSS feeds. What appears on the site is the post title, the author, the date published, categories and the article “excerpt.” I found my post on another site, looking like this:
Great Wines for Labor Day: New Age from Argentina
Posted by Amy Corron Power | Great Value Wine, Holiday, Pairings, Posts, Reviews, Video, Wine | Posted on August 31st, 2010
These refreshing spritzers are all the rage with the jet setters and hip crowd in Argentina. Refreshing and low in alcohol, it is the perfect wine for a dancing on the patio or sunning by the pool. They also make a great addition to the end of summer Labor Day cook-out!
See it looks like I actually write for the site. I don’t. In fact, I found it by simply “Googling” my full name. When I delved a bit more into the site I found a snippet of Joe’s post on duck fat:
Be a Home Superstar Chef (Part 10 – duck fat)
Posted by Joe Power | Be a Home Superstar Chef, Education, Posts, Wine, cooking | Posted on August 24th, 2010
This is part 9 of our on-going Home Superstar Chef series. The previous posts in this series were Part 1 – Good Pans, Part 2 – Shallots, Part 3 – Pine Nuts, Part 4 – Knives, Part 5 – High Heat Cooking, Part 6 – Restaurant […]
Usually those three little dots would provide a link to the complete article, but on the above-offending site, there are no links whatsoever. There are, however, several links to Ads by Google. And that’s where there is no defense to copyright infringement: the website is making money by unauthorized reproduction of content. And it’s not just Another Wine Blog he’s stealing from. We found posts taken from Wine.com, The Wine Economist, CellarMistress and Deb Harkness’ Good Wines under $20 as well. I thought maybe it was a vulnerability in WordPress, since most of these thief blogs are “Powered by WordPress.” But some of the blogs he’s stealing from are Blogger – which is why we assume it’s the RSS feed.
I’m purposely not linking to any of the sites or identifying them by name. I don’t want to give them an ounce of publicity by naming or linking to them. We did trace their .urls as well as the addresses and phone numbers listed on those sites. We checked out their internet service providers. It turns out one company associated with a number of these sites is known for hiring the types of thieves we’re talking about.
We are taking steps to remove our copyrighted material from their websites. How?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act
Signed into law in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act limits the liability of internet service providers and other hosts who inadvertently assist in the perpetration of copyright infringement by their users. It also raises the penalties on copyright infringement on the Internet. It also encourages the service providers and search engines to assist in removing the infringement if the owner of the copyright files a clear notice of alleged infringement. Our friend Doug at AbleGrape.com was nice enough to point us in the right direction for filing the requisite complaints.
Should you find that your hard work is being stolen by these web thieves, take action! If the sites have ads, contact their advertisers. If they are also stealing others’ content, make sure you alert those folks as well. And don’t hesitate in filing a DMCA complaint with Google and Bing.
Link to Us, Don’t Steal From Us
We certainly do not want to discourage others from promoting Another Wine Blog. In fact, we love it when you post snippets from here to your blog and link back to us. We’re happy to contribute to other blogs as we have time. But taking our posts, comments, headlines and photography to post as if it were your work is simply not cool. Using our articles or RSS feed excerpts on your website without a link, but instead putting “Posted by Another Wine Blog” as if we contribute to your site, when we in fact do not, would seem to be fraud. If you’re running ads and earning revenue on your sites by unadulterated theft of our content, you owe us money. And we may just come to collect.
And that is nothing to cheer about!